Raising Awesome Humans The Danish Way
12th June 2019
Words by Anna Whitaker
I’m reading Iben Dissing Sandahl and Jessica Joelle Alexander’s The Danish Way of Parenting for the second time now. The first time, I was pregnant with Arlo and although it had some lovely insights into why the Danes constantly top the international happiness polls, most of it seemed more relevant to toddlers, temper tantrums and general communication strategies, which is why now feels like the perfect time to dip back in.
With this post, I’m hoping to summarise the Danes’ laid-back approach to parenting, which should offer some ideas on how to raise confident, capable kids.
We obviously approve of this chapter coming first. What’s even better is that it’s super easy to get a handle on. Children learn through play and by encouraging that with age-appropriate games and a small selection of toys, rotated on a regular basis (so as not to overstimulate), you’ll be giving them all the tools they need to explore, expand and improve new and existing abilities, along with the confidence to try new things. Enrolling them in too many extra-curricular activities, could actually stifle the learning process and increase childhood stress/pressure to succeed instead of letting them do what they do best and really enjoy, which is playing.
Replying to their questions with honest answers is a way to build trust and bond with your child. There’s always a way of getting around the more difficult ones too, such as “what is terrorism?” by responding with a balanced point of view in child-friendly language. These subjects aren’t fun for any of us but by wrapping it up with the fact that you’re doing everything you can to protect them, they’ll always feel comforted that you’re on their side. Scandinavian fairy tales, although dark, teach children that the world isn’t as rosy as their sheltered life suggests so they’re a good starting point if you’re ready to open up the conversation.
Nobody’s perfect and well-adjusted children understand this from a young age. Our job as parents is to remind them that there are positive aspects to most negative experiences. Got a question wrong? “Now you know the answer, you’ll never forget it”. A friend wouldn’t share their toy? “Well done for being so patient – perhaps you can play with it tomorrow”? They weren’t allowed the ice cream? “If we eat ice cream as much as we want, it’ll stop tasting so special.” You get the drift.
This is a biggy. Teaching little people to tap into others’ emotions is the ultimate skill for a well-balanced adulthood. Empathy is about understanding and sharing emotions, so encouraging them to open up and talk about how they’re feeling without ever suggesting that happy or sad are particularly ’good’ or ‘bad’, means our children will understand the full spectrum and can talk about how they feel with confidence. This openness, in turn, helps children to understand what others are going through, like how another child feels when they won’t share the toy. Nail this one and you’re on track to one kind and caring individual.
5. No ultimatums
If you’re anything like me, staying calm when your toddler’s having an absolute shit fit, refusing to get in the bath/put their shoes on/eat some dinner is about the last thing on your mind. But that’s what this chapter is about. Instead of bribing them with treats or issuing empty threats, my favourite tip here is to reframe the situation with honest accounts of how their behaviour might affect their lives. If you’re due to see friends or family soon, suggest that “X doesn’t like to play with naughty children” (not, “you’re naughty. X won’t want to play with you” – this slight difference shows that if they change their behaviour, they’ll be back in X’s good books).
We’ve all loved getting Hygge over the last few years and the good news is, it’s helping us raise happier kids. Staying in, battening down the hatches and getting cosy places value on strong relationships and creates a reassuring environment where you’re little ones can develop in a calm and supportive space. Play, talk, eat and just BE together without any agenda. This is harder than it sounds with our hectic social lives and modern dependence on screens but once you let go and embrace the JOMO, you’ll see just how beneficial it is.
As with all parenting advice, take this with as much salt as you see fit. I personally approve of the “do less” approach but not sure how calm and collected I’ll be able to stay when Arlo’s hurtling towards a main road on his scooter and not listening to my cries to stop (which is when you should stay calm and remind them that there are cars there and cars make them go “ouchy”). I’ll follow this post up with a more in-depth look at each chapter some time but for now, I should probably go and get cosy with my toddler before bedtime rolls round.
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